National Post editorial board: Passing over — from sin to grace (NATIONAL POST EDITORIAL) 04/08/12)
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It’s the first day of Passover. The Book of Exodus tells us that when
the final plague — death of the firstborn — was visited upon Pharoah
and all Egypt, it “passed over” the homes of the Jews, marked as they
were with the blood of the Passover lamb. It was a passing over in
other ways, too — from Egypt through the Red Sea, from death to life,
from slavery to liberty.
Passover is at the heart of the Christian observance of Holy Week.
The Last Supper of Holy Thursday was the Passover meal of Jesus and
his apostles. Good Friday marks the crucifixion of Christ, portrayed
in the scriptures, Christian theology and art as the paschal
sacrifice, i.e., the Passover lamb. Today is the day of the tomb, the
day of great stillness and silence. There is a passing over going on
here too — from sorrow to joy, death to life, from the tomb to
resurrection, from sin to grace.
Our attention is drawn during these holy days to the biblical lands.
Egypt is one of them. Syria is another. We watch the unfolding
upheavals and transitions, and hope that what aspires to be a passing
over may not become a pushing aside, a lashing out, a clamping down.
For example, the city of Homs is, in biblical terms, walking distance
from Jerusalem, shorter than the distance between Ottawa and Quebec
City. It was Saul who set out from Jerusalem to Damascus — shorter
than the distance between Calgary and Edmonton. Saul went to suppress
the Christians there. Is a contemporary Saul now marching on Homs,
not from Jerusalem, but from Damascus? The Catholic agency Aid to the
Church in Need reports that almost the entire Christian population of
Homs has fled violence and persecution. The massacres perpetrated by
the Syrian regime, compounded by attacks by Islamist extremists, have
squeezed more than 50,000 Christians out of Homs and into the rural
villages and towns, as well as to the mountains some 50 kilometres
Passover and Easter come to us in the springtime, when nature itself
passes over from cold to warmth, from darkness to light, from winter
sleep to a burst of new life. It’s springtime too in the biblical
lands, but whether the Arab Spring proves to be a passing over or
stepping back remains to be seen.
Christians and Jews recall on their holy days that turmoil and
conflict with worldly power have been their lot from the beginning.
When Moses went to Pharoah, he first asked that the Jewish people be
allowed to go on a pilgrimage, as it were, to worship God rightly.
Pharoah denied the request. He would not be the last ruler to see in
the worship of God a rival to his own cult of power.
Yesterday, Christians the world over heard the account in St. John’s
Gospel of the trial of Jesus before Pontius Pilate. That an innocent
man was about to be wrongfully convicted was not the great drama
there; alas, history and current experience teach us that this is not
rare. Rather the drama of their conversation touched on the meaning
of nation and people, of kingdoms and kingship, of truth and falsity,
of divine authority and human power.
To look at history through a biblical lens is to see that drama in
every age. At the time of Moses, the great world power was Egypt,
master of all disciplines of human learning and art and engineering,
advanced in culture when the Hebrews were still pitching their tents
as they wandered. In the time of Jesus, Rome was the great imperial
centre, mighty in arms, learned in law, sophisticated in literature.
Compared to Rome, Jerusalem remained insignificant, to say nothing of
a place called Nazareth. Yet the scriptures read as a polemic against
Egypt and Rome, against the power of this world and all its pomps and
works. To be a Jew, to be a Christian, is to see beyond the limited
wisdom of this world, whether it manifests itself by brute force or
Pharoah is gone. As are the Caesars. And to that list have been added
tyrants of all times and places, against which so often have been
arrayed the children of Israel and disciples of Jesus Christ. The
passing over from death to life, from slavery to liberty, from sin to
grace — all this has been accomplished in history. It still needs to
be accomplished, as our daily news pages demonstrate. And it still is
being accomplished, as is the hope of every springtime, both seasonal
This is the faith that is affirmed at Passover and Easter. To our
readers, then, we wish the blessings of these holy days. (© 2012
National Post, a division of Postmedia Network Inc. 04/08/12)
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